The full United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled yesterday that the constitution does not require a search warrant or probable cause to justify the Government obtaining historical cell site information.
In United States v. Quartavius Davis, the Government got a court order for 67 days of cell site data – records of where the defendant's cell phone had been at various times. Those records showed that the phone was present at the locations where 6 different armed robberies occurred. The Government obtained these records under the Stored Communications Act (SCA), which authorizes a court to order cell service providers to release records upon a showing that there is "reasonable grounds to believe" the evidence is "relevant and material" to a criminal investigation. The SCA does not require a showing of probable cause.
In a 9-2 decision, the Court held that the SCA did not violate the fourth amendment and affirmed Davis' conviction.
Several judges wrote separate opinions, which are particularly interesting to read. They address the growing issue of how to conform traditional fourth amendment search and seizure law to emerging technologies. Both Courts and Congress will be grappling with this issue in the years ahead.